“Fourteen.” The aboriginal looked at me, aware of my turmoil. He looked at the sun, which had all but disappeared in the desert. Overhead, stars were visible.
My previous offer had already been below any reasonable price. At sixteen apiece, I might just make a few bucks, or I might not, depending on transport, breakage, and whatnot. Fourteen was less even than I had paid, and Paul knew that, must know that.
“You know I can’t do that, Paul. I have to make a living, you know. Fourteen is less than I am paying. I really can’t do that.”
Paul squinted at the sun, briefly, and looked at me again. Less than five minutes, I reckoned, and they either came to an agreement or not. Paul wouldn’t deal after sunset, for whatever reason.
“Tell you what I’ll do, Paul. You can have them for fifteen half. Fifteen that I paid and fifty cents to get ’m here, Paul. I’m not making a penny, and you know it.”
Suddenly I felt exhausted. The aboriginal shifted his balance slightly and squinted at the remains of the sun.
For no apparent reason, I thought of Francine. God, I missed her. But maybe it was better like this. I missed her, but I didn’t miss the hassle, the drama. I felt closer to myself.
As the final ray lit up and extinguished, I said: “Ok, Paul, you’ll have them for fourteen.”
The aboriginal shifted his balance again but didn’t react, otherwise. And yet, I felt, … something. I had lost money I didn’t even have, and I wouldn’t be able to tell my co-workers about this deal without looking like a total prat, but I felt ok.
I looked at Paul again, but he had gone.
It started a couple of weeks ago. Ever since the split-up, I live in a tiny ground-floor apartment, which means I have to maintain the small garden and fence. I’d been planning to do it but can’t seem to find the time. When I came home, it was all done. The grass cut, the hole in the fence fixed. No one to be seen. I went to get my mail, thinking it might be some scam, but there was nothing.
I asked around, but no one had seen anything. I’m not exactly friends with my neighbors, and why would they take notice. I’d no choice but to write it off as a mystery. Until a week later, and the girl rang my doorbell.
“Hey, I’m Marlee. Paul said I could crash here.”
She walked past me; clearly, it hadn’t been a question.
“Paul said what? Paul who? I don’t know you. What do you mean, crash?”
“Crash as in stay. I can’t stay at home for a couple of days. You know. It’s not a healthy environment for me right now. So I asked Paul, and he said it would be ok to stay here.”
“But Paul can’t just invite people here. It’s...”
Words left me. I really couldn’t think how this made sense.
“Well, maybe he didn’t say ‘would be ok.’ Maybe he said ‘might be ok.’ But it’s ok, isn’t it? I can sleep on the couch, and I can clean your kitchen and stuff. I won’t be in your way.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m fifteen, but I look after myself. It’s only for a couple of days.”
For a split second, I didn’t know what to say, and that was it. Marlee walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on. End of conversation.
The following day I went to work, still unsure what to say or think. She didn’t strike me as a thief, and honestly, there was nothing to steal. When I came home, she’d made dinner of sorts, and we talked a bit. She lived with her mum and stepfather, but he drank and would become amorous and/or violent. Her mum knew how to deal with him, but when she was gone to work, Marlee didn’t feel safe.
The next couple of days were somewhat awkward. It’s a tiny apartment. Unintentionally I walked into the bathroom when she was drying her hair after taking a shower. Embarrassed, I turned away and started packing my stuff for the day. When she came out she said: “I don’t mind you seeing me like that, but I’m not that kind of a girl.” What could I say?
That afternoon Miro had appeared. A young boy with a black eye, a bag of clothes, and a small sleeping bag.
“Let me guess. You can’t stay at home, and Paul thought it might be ok if you stayed here.”
“My dad drinks. He doesn’t want to, but it happens. It’s better if I stay away for a couple of days.”
“Why don’t you just go to the police?”
“And be locked up in a foster home? How is that helping? Besides. He’s not bad. He just drinks.”
I called Paul. He didn’t have a phone, but a friend of a neighbour did, so after an hour, he called back. “You can’t be sending people here, Paul. It’s too small. Marlee doesn’t seem in a hurry, so now Miro has to sleep on the floor.”
“Yeah. Ok.” Click
Ok, what? Not ok. Nothing was ok.
When I returned home the next day, there was a half-filled ancient ute parked in front of the house. People were bringing stuff in boxes out of the house and putting them in the ute. My stuff.
“What are you doing, mate. That’s my stuff.”
“Yeah, I know. We’re moving it. You’re moving.”
“Moving. You said it was too tiny, so you’re moving. Not as fancy as this, but certainly bigger.”
“But you can’t just move my stuff and move my home without ... talking about it.”
“Sure. That’s what friends are for. You do stuff for us, and we do stuff for you.”
I wanted to get mad, but I couldn’t. This was absurd, but in the end, I didn’t like the apartment that much anyway. Inside, Marlee and Miro were filling boxes. Paul and a woman called Nora were picking them up and putting them in the ute. They were nearly done. On the table was a note for my landlord and the set of keys Marlee had been using. Paul told me to call the landlord and tell him I was leaving. It would cost me the bond, but I was too baffled to think of something to do.
We drove to ‘my new house’; Paul, Nora, and Miro in the ute, Marlee and I in my car. It was a small house just outside the town, but still twice as big as my apartment. My stuff and some furniture stayed downstairs. Marlee and Miro each took a small room upstairs, and then a further number of boxes were taken upstairs to the bigger room. Apparently, Nora was also going to stay here. Or live here, I was beyond understanding.
So here I am, in a new house with new people around me. Miro left for home a couple of days ago, but an older boy, Warren, has taken his place. His room. Another boy, Darrel, 18 years or so, has taken up the attic, so we’re snug again.
Nora, Elanora, turns out to be perfect company. She was kicked out of her house by her landlord. She has a decent job as a designer, and I like to talk to her. I like more about her, but it’s early days yet.